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Bear Repellent Spray

Updated on September 23, 2010

Bear Pepper Spray: Non Lethal Bear Protection

Bear Spray is referred to by many different names: bear spray, bear pepper spray, mace bear spray, and bear repellent spray. They're all basically the same thing. Bear mace is a non-lethal defense against bear attacks. Similar to mace or pepper spray used on humans, but obviously much, MUCH stronger since this stuff is designed to stop a grizzly dead in its tracks.Bear pepper spray is great to have if you live in, or are going to be hiking or camping in areas that are known for having large bear populations. I first learned about this stuff when I lived in Alaska and did a lot of hiking and camping in the Interior, and also down by the coast on the Kenai Peninsula. Alaska does have pretty "liberal" gun laws, in that anyone over 18 who is not a felon can carry a concealed weapon, with the normal restrictions about not carrying on schools, federal buildings, etc.

Did I Use Bear Spray?

I did carry around a .44 Magnum because if I was caught in a worst case scenario, I wanted a gun that gave me a fighting chance of putting down a bear before it made me dinner, but camping I was a big fan of Guard Alaska Bear Pepper Spray. This isn't saying this is the best bear spray, but it is the bear repellent I've used and friends of mine have used in the bush and we're still all here even after a couple bear charges.

The nice thing about bear spray is that it gives a non-lethal way to stop a bear attack and discourage future interest if you know how to use it. When a bear charges, you want to fire the bear pepper spray into a thick cloud between you and the bear. A bear's nose is something in the range of over 2,500 times more sensitive than a person's. 99% of the time the bear takes a whiff, rubs its eyes, makes some unpleasant noises, and scampers off in the other direction.

In fact, studies have shown that bear spray is better than a gun in deterring bear attacks. Bear spray caused bears to stop and straight out flee over 92% of the time, and this included examples of bears foraging an area for food and leaving the entire area. Guns only worked 67% of the time, meaning one third of the time the bullet wounds actually made the bears MORE aggressive.

I carried the gun for a couple reasons: one was the "just in case" factor of the bear spray not working. The other was that I know how to use a firearm and I might not be an expert marksman, but I'm more than a good enough shot to use the gun well and responsibly. The first defense against bears, however, was always the bear spray.

One Can of Bear Spray, and One Stupid Volunteer

Bear Attacks & Bear Spray

But I've Heard Bear Repellent Spray Doesn't Work


I've heard this excuse give bear spray a bad rap, and it's not justified. There are some genuine concerns about bear spray, and I'll try to address them here, but the majority of the time when someone hears something bad about bear mace, or how bear pepper spray failed to stop a bear attack, it's because:

  1. The person didn't use the bear spray correctly.
  2. The person was given an extremely old can of bear spray that should have been junked a decade ago (many of the examples of a 1 in 1,000 failure rate happen for this reason, as well).
  3. The person telling you the story has a gun to sell.
  4. The person really was an unlucky person who faced one of those 8% bears and/or had a rare can malfunction at the same time.

I'm not saying not to carry a gun if you're going into the Alaskan backcountry (excuse the language, but you'd be a damn fool not to), but bear mace will work the majority of the time. The gun should only be a back up plan, or for survival purposes if things go wrong.

Besides: if you're gun isn't in the .357 Magnum or .44 Magnum range, or "bear gun" type of handgun, then it's not going to do you a lot of good against a bear anyway. Remember: 92% versus 67%.

Bear spray in some ways is like a fire arm: if you want it to work you have to know how to use it. Bear spray is NOT a deterrent or repellent like bug spray. If you spray yourself with this stuff you are going to be in a world of pain...and then you are going to smell like peppered steak to every bear within ten miles. You NEVER spray this stuff on your coolers, tent, or vehicles. This is bear mace, not bear repellent.

Bear spray is used to stop an attack, or to stop a grizzly who is getting way too curious by overwhelming their sensitive noses. To them a cloud of this stuff is noxious. If you spray it on stuff and leave it, then six hours later that smells like lunch.

Use bear pepper spray properly, and you'll be in good shape, but don't be an idiot. Don't season yourself up for hungry mammals.

Kodiak Island & Bear Attacks

What Pepper Spray for Bears Works Best?


This is a common question from people who want to know what the best bear spray is. The answer: it's really hard to say. No one really knows if one brand of bear mace works better than another, and in theory all of them should be effective. All I can do is list some of the more popular brands of bear spray:

  • Counter Assault Bear Spray
  • Udap Bear Spray
  • Guard Alaska Bear Spray
  • Frontiersman Bear Attack Deterrent Spray
  • Mace Brand Bear Pepper Spray

These are probably the five most common brands you'll run into. There isn't a huge market for bear spray, in part because it's virtually impossible for a new brand to prove that it's in any way, shape, or form superior to what's already out there.

Used properly, all of these bear sprays should be more than enough to prevent serious bear attacks. Knowing how to use bear mace, and brush up on the proper actions when hiking in bear country. Prevention is usually 99% of handling any situation involving humans and bears in the wild.

Bear Pepper Spray: Any User Experiences?

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    • profile image

      d. netta 6 years ago

      accidentaly sprayed one blast of bear mace inside my house, against a wall. didnt get in my eyes or on my skin, but the vapors caused a horrific upper respitory result for me. at least 5-7 min. of desperately grasping for breath...took hours to clear the odor from the house. on the upside, i feel even more confident it would deter any of the black bears frequently roaming our neighborhood.

    • profile image

      DWM 6 years ago

      How many of those 33% of cases where the gun failed were smaller caliber pistols? How many times has a 44MAG or 12G shotgun failed to stop a bear? I suspect that a sufficiently powerful gun works more than 92% of the time, and weaker guns work maybe 2% of the time. Lets see some real stats!!!

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image

      Mrs. Menagerie 6 years ago from The Zoo

      Awesome hub! I always have bearspray with me but have never had to use it. My closest experience is when a nasty neighbor bear sprayed my dog...the dog was sick for days and you couldn't get within ten feet of him without your eyes and nose burning!

    • profile image

      bear repellent spray 6 years ago

      Great article! Encountering an aggressive grizzly can be very scary and is certainly life threatening. Bear spray is the only proven deterrent. I think you should always take a canister along, one for everyone in your group whenever you venture out into the wilderness. You never know when you will need it. It's best to be prepared.

    • Jerry G2 profile image

      Jerry G2 7 years ago from Cedar Rapids, IA

      Hi Jeanie,

      I agree. As much as Alaskans love their guns, and I carried one all the time when I was up there, you always carried around a can of bear spray to use first. By far and away the best way to defend from bears, and that is some potent stuff! Thanks for commenting.

    • jeanie.stecher profile image

      jeanie.stecher 7 years ago from Seattle

      You are right there Jerry regarding what is the best pepper spray for bear is. Since bear attacks are not that very common unlike dogs or human attacks, it is quite hard to say which is good or better for bears. I think any would do, as long as the brand would say so, it would be since it is invented to actually repel bears from attacking.